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“Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone”

Life beginsI love this quote for it rings true. Life begins when we truly challenge ourselves and get away from the mundane routine that engulfs so many. The Spartan Beast is a great way to push the envelope and get out of our comfort zone. This weekend 18 MBG’ers will take on the Beast in Vernon, New Jersey. A couple are veterans of this race, but many of you will be experiencing it for the first time. It’s a race that is worthy of it’s name. Approximately 12 plus miles and anywhere from 30-35 obstacles. The terrain in Vernon is perfect as it offers plenty of elevation change.

 

Weather

Saturday looks like a high of 75 and probably the nicest day this spring. It should be about 48 for the start of the race which is perfect weather for racing. A slight chill so maybe keep a sweatshirt on until it’s time to enter the start area. I am pretty sure that simply a t-shirt and shorts is all that is needed in regards to attire. It will be warming as the morning progresses and before you know it you will be hot.

Gear Recommendations

I highly recommend that you have some type of hydration with you. Traditionally there are not a lot of water stations during this race. You probably will have one or two opportunities to replenish your water so take the time to do it. Race day is not the day to mess around with your hydration. If you use water on your long training runs then stick with it. Same goes for electrolyte drinks. If you know from past experiences that the drink you will be using will not cause any stomach issues then use it. Do Not Experiment Race Day! I would also strongly recommend some type of food that you know will not bother your stomach. Whatever you choose to bring make sure you waterproof it inside a ziplock bag just in case you get muddy or wet. I like to pack one comfort snack that I take when I need that mental recharge in addition to other food items. Water wicking clothes is a must from head to toe to try and reduce the chance of blisters and keep your body cool.

What we think

What We Think We Become

These events are made to test you both physically and mentally. Leading up to the race you have to log the hours. If you prepared properly, which you have, then your body is ready. Now it’s time to manage your race with your mental toughness. As the race progresses it will be necessary to find comfort while being uncomfortable. This is where mentally strong people find a way to retreat into the safety of their mind and stay locked in. Make it a game and embrace it. A mantra can become a handy tool. For the Beast in Vermont I used “Weakness is a Weakness of Will” it worked for me. Whatever you choose to do stay positive and find the good in your experience and not the bad.

Everyone Wants to be Great

Enjoy The Moment

You made the commitment, found the time to put the hours of training required and all that is left is to get after it! Enjoy every minute of it. There are plenty of people who do not have the ability to do what you are doing. Don’t take the blessings you have for granted. You not only posses a strong body but a strong mind as well. When you jump over the fire and cross the finish line take a minute and soak it in. You did it but most of all YOU EARNED IT!

 

A Beginner’s Mind Offers Many Possibilities

Learn to master your emotions.

Learn to master your emotions.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter had her first dance competition of the season. We were all very excited as she would be performing her first solo. She would have to take the stage by herself not being able to lean on her fellow dancers for support. As to be expected she was very nervous and began to become stressed out by it. To make things worse she was not scheduled to dance until nine o’clock at night. This meant she had all day to think about it.

I have had discussions in the past with her about the importance of visualization. This is something that she routinely works on. Basically she visualizes herself performing the routine perfectly in front of an audience. This is a skill that all high level performers develop and work on. Visualization allows you to visit a scenario or event whenever you like. In doing so you develop a familiarity with it. As the late Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” On a higher level when your subconscious mind accepts your conscious visualization they then become part of your reality.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki

After breakfast we were in the hotel room and I started to go through my breathing and mobility exercises. I decided to have Anna join me and felt that it would help her to relax. The beauty of a young persons mind is that they do not yet consider themselves an expert. This allows them to be open to learn new things. Anna shadowed me as I coached her through drills to slow her heart rate and relax her body. Drawing her thoughts inward and attempting to exist in the present moment she was able to alleviate the stress in her body. This in turn reduced the tension and allowed her to relax. We then worked through our bodies working out from the spine performing mobility drills to further relax the body. She acknowledged that it helped her and she was feeling better. I explained to her that she could use these drills as she was waiting to dance to help her relax.

A proud Daddy!

A proud Daddy!

She performed her solo beautifully and my wife and I couldn’t have been more proud. After her performance the first thing she said to me was that she went through the drills twice before she danced and she felt it really helped her. I was very proud of her. Not only because of her performance but the fact she took recently gained knowledge and applied it. She choose to not judge what she learned from any personal bias but to apply it. At that moment she became the teacher. She reminded me of the importance of maintaining a beginner’s mind and all of the possibilities that come with it!

The Goose And The Golden Egg

Golden EggIn the fable “The Goose And The Golden Egg” we are told a story about a very fortunate farmer. One morning as he checked the nest of his goose he noticed a glittering, golden egg. Not believing his eyes he took the golden egg to  market and discovered that it was in fact real. Every morning the goose continued to produce a single golden egg. The farmer soon became rich beyond his means but he also grew impatient. The single egg produced each day was not enough anymore and he wanted more. He came to the idea that if he killed the goose he could cut it open and take all of the golden eggs at once. When the deed was done, not a single golden egg could he find, and his precious Goose was dead.

The moral I have drawn from this story is that of respecting the process. The golden egg represents the end result or goal we all chase. We will pursue many golden eggs in our lifetime that cover different areas in our life such as emotional, physical, professional and spiritual. A mistake we can make is obsessing with the golden egg or the end result. In doing so we neglect the goose which is the process. The process by which we are able to achieve or produce something that is so important. When we loose site of the importance of the process, or the goose, we put ourselves in a situation that will never allow us to obtain the golden egg or result we desire. By attempting to shortcut the process we are only setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. We need to remember that the process is as important as the product!

Devil in a Day

 

Start of "Devil in a Day" 2014.

Start of “Devil in a Day” 2014.

Devil’s Path is a hiking trail that is located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The trail allows hikers to summit five peaks and is approximately 25 miles in length. Most hikers break the trail up and do one or 2 summits as a day hike. It is also popular with backpackers as there are state owned campgrounds and this allows the entire trail to be hiked over a couple of days. If you are looking for a challenge and are responsible in your approach, this trail can be hiked in one day.  It is considered one of the toughest day hikes in the Northeast. October 11, 2014 was the second time I hiked it in a day and we have affectionately nicknamed it “Devil in a Day.” I figured I would write about my experiences and try to give you some insight into the experience. Possibly motivate some of you to set it as a goal for next year. I was introduced to Devil’s Path by my buddy Gene. We have done it together both years with three others in 2013 and five different people this year. During my hike this year I tried to take some voice memos for each peak so I could recall some key points. There is one consistency throughout the hike and that is your going to have to work to get through it. Here’s my breakdown followed by some recommendations.

Notice red reflective trail marker on tree.

Notice red reflective trail marker on tree.

Trail Start

Devil’s Path is a point to point hike so this is going to require some pre-planning. You are going to have to leave a car at the finish so you have a way to get home. Both times we dropped a car off at the finish and left it overnight. In addition your not going to go much faster than 2 miles an hour so it would be prudent to get an early start. The trail begins off Country Road at the corner of Prediger Road. There is limited parking available. You can be dropped off or simply leave your car and retrieve it the following day. The trail is very well marked with red reflective DEC discs. Both times we hiked it we did it in early October. The temperature reduces the stress on the body and the reduced foliage helps in picking up the trail markers.

 

Best Trail Sign  Indian Head 

In addition to the red discs there are trail signs placed strategically throughout the trail. They give distance and direction for upcoming summits and attractions. These signs are helpful and can aid in motivation. I didn’t find the ascent of Indian Head  to be challenging. Your going to hit a point that offers a small area to get a pretty nice view of the valley. This is not the summit. After this point you are going to hit some short sections of challenging terrain. More notable a collapsed tree that is in your path and rotted away. Use caution and avoid walking on top of it as it seems close to breaking in half. In addition roots from other trees will provide some good handholds as you make your way up the remaining rocky terrain as you approach the summit. Indian Head will give you some limited views but not anything to write home about. It’s a nice way to ease into the trail and get warmed up. The summit for Indian Head is 3,573 feet.

 

Welcomed site as summit is close.

Welcomed site as summit is close.

Welcomed Site

The 3,500 foot elevation marker is a welcomed site throughout the hike. It’s there to point out DEC regulations on fires and camping above this point between March 21 and December 21. It also is a good sign that you are very close to the summit you are approaching. As you tire it provides a mental re-charge at times when it is definitely needed.

 

 

Narrow chute descending Twin.

Narrow chute descending Twin.

Twin 

Twin is a quick ascent and very steep. It did provide some technical sections but overall I didn’t feel it was that bad. As it’s name implies there are two summits on Twin. The first offers a real nice panoramic view of the Catskills and on a clear day is one of the better views. This year we had some rain when we hit this summit. It was nice but not nearly as nice as it was the year prior. The second peak is the true summit and is about 3,600 feet. I felt that the decent down Twin was very challenging. A lot of loose rock to be aware of with your footing. This is the first time you get to appreciate your trekking poles as they saved me from taking a spill more than once.

Sugarloaf

This accent of Sugarloaf offered more rock outcrops and chutes than Twin. This was a challenging ascent and did not reward you with any nice views once the summit of 3,800 feet was reached. The descent was equally as challenging.

Group photo at Danny's lookout on Plateau.

Group photo at Danny’s lookout on Plateau.

Plateau

This is a bitch of an ascent and I think the toughest one on Devil’s Path. It is rocky and steep. You are going to work the entire way up and this is one of those moments when the 3,500 foot elevation sign is a relief as it reinforces that you are almost there. Plateau tops out at 3,855 feet. One of my favorite parts of the trail is the hike across the actual Plateau. It is about a two mile nearly level, soft footed walk before you begin your next decent. It’s a relief from the constant, rocky up and down. My feet appreciated it and the terrain was nice enough to allow for a refreshing trail run if you where so inclined. Before the descent you get two views. One from Danny’s lookout which gives you  a nice northeast view and the second from Orchid point which allows you to view both Hunter and West Kill Mountain. The decent down is long and rocky with a lot of loose rock.

Tommy crossing Route 214 and beginning Western half of trail.

Tommy crossing Route 214 and beginning Western half of trail.

Route 214

Route 214 is the only road crossing on Devil’s Path and it is roughly the half way point. We took an extended stop here and addressed any issues that were arising with our body. I took the opportunity to change into a pair of dry socks and address areas on my feet that were heating up in an effort to ward off blisters. The mental game also begins here as you can’t escape how you feel and  realize you are only half way done.

 

These views make the work worth it.

These views make the work worth it.

Hunter

Once you cross Route 214 you begin your ascent of Hunter. It was tough initially to get the body going after the long stop but once we warmed back up we found this section to not be terribly challenging. The trail seemed to contain a lot of switchbacks and the ascent was comfortable. Depending on how you feel there is a point here that you can switch trails and you can take the yellow trail to Hunter’s summit and fire tower. We elected to skip this and proceed on the red trail. Shortly after this is the Devil’s Acre Lean to where we ran into a couple of hikers who looked like they were settling in for the night. The trail begins  to descend after this as you make your way towards the waterfall at West Kill. All of the descents on Devil’s Path seem to be long. Your feet get pushed up to the front of your shoes and your thighs take a beating from the extended eccentric load. It was on this descent that I really started to feel the fatigue of the downhill.

West Kill

West Kill section at night due to late start.

West Kill section at night due to late start.

This is the last section of the Devil’s Path. Once reaching West Kill Falls you are able to cross the water via a bridge that has been built within this past year. We had to wait here for about a half hour as two members of our group fell behind. It was here also that two members of our group opted to hike out to Spruceton Road on the blue trail and take that route back to the car. West Kill is the highest summit on the hike at 3,880 feet and is the sixth highest summit in the Catskills. Buck Ridge Lookout is on the way up West Kill and gives probably the best view of the entire hike. Unfortunately we were not able to appreciate it as we reached it in darkness. This ascent is not difficult but I felt it was the longest so you just have to keep grinding away at it. By this time your tired and your feet and thighs are aching. My motivation was simply to finish so I could get off my feet. It feels like it’s never going to end but when you reach your car and realize it’s over it’s a rewarding experience.

Jim Rock Devil 14Recommendations 

To take on “Devil in a Day” I would make the following recommendations. Be responsible in your decision to do it and be realistic with your expectations. You must be physically fit. This is not a hike to take on with a casual attitude as you are going to be in remote areas without any easy access in the event someone gets hurt or lost. Use your trekking poles early and do not wait until you feel tired. This is going to save your legs for the second half. I would also recommend doing it with a small group rather than a large one. Less chances of things going wrong and affecting hike. Someone in the group should have experience with this hike and the trails. Make no doubt about it this is an endurance event. You do not have the ability to stop and wait for someone to pick you up. Once you start it’s on you to finish. Stay hydrated and fueled. Take a few minutes at every summit to enjoy the view  and to eat and drink. It will pay off later in the hike. I think it’s important to test your will and take on challenges. It raises the bar on what you define as being hard or difficult. Hiking Devil’s Path in a day provides you with just such a challenge. It’s good to test your will once in a while and see what you find!

Gear

  • Backback with a frame. Will allow you to carry everything you need and rest comfortably on your back.
  • Two Trekking poles. These will not only save your legs but you from falling on this terrain.
  • Headlamp with extra batteries, I take two headlamps with me.
  • At least 3-4 liters of water and at least 3,000 calories. Have some real food and not all gels and bars. I take some comfort food with me to lift my spirits.
  • Wet weather gear in case it rains.
  • Extra socks. Pack them in zip lock bags so they stay dry.
  • First aid kit with blister care.
  • Camera for the awesome views.
  • Compass, Map, GPS
  • Survival gear: knife, waterproof matches etc.
  • Adequate clothing for change in weather and temperature
  • Body Glide or whatever you prefer to ward off chaffing!!!

 

 

Bone Frog Challenge: A True Obstacle Course Race

MBG BF StartOver the past couple of years obstacle course racing has become the new recreational activity among thrill seekers across the country. These races seem to attract people from all walks of life and gives them the opportunity to spend the day running, crawling, jumping and climbing across a mud-filled course with some friends. In 2013, approximately 2 million Americans participated in an obstacle course race. With a rise in popularity we have seen many new races enter the market attempting to carve out their own piece in this growing industry. The result has been that many of these new races have become too diluted and unsustainable.

Dan GroupLooking to try something new, I was excited to find out that a new OCR race called the Bone Frog Challenge was coming to Staten Island.  The Bone Frog Challenge is an obstacle race that is owned, operated and created by Navy SEALs. The goal of this race is to challenge participants and help them realize that they can do anything they set their mind to while enjoying the camaraderie and teamwork of those they are racing with. My expectations and anticipation for this race was high. It’s not often that you get to meet a Navy SEAL let alone run an obstacle course designed by them. If we look into the origin of obstacle courses it seems to have its beginnings in military training and dates back to the Roman Empire. If any of the newcomers to the obstacle racing community had something to offer, this would be the race. Their military experience would bring a different perspective on what an obstacle course should entail. This was also going to be a challenge for  Bone Frog  as it was going to be only their third race and the first one on the road.

Black Ops at the finish!

Black Ops at the finish!

The forecast for race day called for heavy rain in the morning and early afternoon. Not good spectator weather, but perfect for those racing. At the start/finish line you got to see the final “Black Ops” obstacle. Hanging from it was a large American flag and the infamous SEAL insignia. It was both patriotic and impressive.  This Obstacle would require you to rope up to a platform, monkey bar across on an incline to a second platform and climb down. I was looking forward to it as it combined multiple tasks. I would be running the long course which would be 8+ miles. The only thing left to do was give it a go and see

what this race had to offer.

Change up from bars.

Change up from bars.

The race started on a gradual uphill that immediately brought you to your first set of obstacles. From this point on Bone Frog continually threw obstacles at you challenging you in many different ways. You never had to travel a great distance before encountering another obstacle.  This was refreshing and made it fun. The long course had some distance to make up and did it by having you run about  3 miles of enjoyable and challenging trails. These trails actually allowed you to open up and get those legs moving. During this section you did encounter some challenging obstacles but they were spread out as opposed to the beginning. One of the more demanding obstacles was in this section. It was a tribute obstacle to those 31 Americans lost on Extortion 17. It required you to do 31 burpee sandbag presses.  Once completed you had another nice stretch of trail running  which lead you to an open field. The field contained a serpentine of about 8 unique and challenging obstacles. Four of them where completely foreign to me. You only had to travel about 30 yards before encountering the next one. It had the American Ninja Warrior factor to it and I really enjoyed it.

Water of course!

Water of course!

Upon exiting the field you were in the home stretch. A mud filled trench and a series of walls awaited you. These obstacles stressed teamwork as many people worked together to get through them. Prior to getting to the “Black Ops” obstacle and finishing the race you had two water crossings. This was no surprise for what would a Navy SEAL obstacle course be without water! At this point the water was refreshing and nobody seemed to mind. The knowledge of what laid ahead energized you.  The Black Ops obstacle was intimidating. Having racers tackle the monkey bars from an elevated platform gave racers a different perspective and added to the excitement of the obstacle. It was refreshing to see the will on the racers as they worked to get across.

Brian Carney, owner of Bone Frog on the left and myself post race.

Brian Carney, owner of Bone Frog on the left and myself post race.

The Bone Frog Challenge did experience some challenges during the race. A number of racers on the long course did get turned around and lost their way. They were slightly undermanned as this was their first road trip. In the end I wasn’t looking for a perfect race. I was looking for something that would challenge me mentally and physically. I actually ran by the Extortion 17 obstacle because the volunteer had not reached the station.  When I realized I had missed it I was about a mile away. The decision was easy to turn around and complete it. Did it affect my time and placing? Yes, but really who cares. As Bone Frog states in it’s Ethos “Attitude is Everything. Don’t let a bad attitude be your biggest obstacle.” I got to run an extra two miles and completed their tribute obstacle. Thats a win for me. This is a good event and I am looking forward to seeing it grow in the coming years. If you have an opportunity to participate in this race you won’t be disappointed. In addition this race appealed to the patriotic side of me. If your going to try a new race why not do one that is helping some of our finest warriors transition into civilian careers. I am confident that any miscues from this race will be improved upon. The Bone Frog Challenge will be a force in the OCR community!

September 11th

Freedom PoolOn September 11, 2001 Al Qaedea launched a multi-tiered terrorist attack against the United States of America. By hijacking planes and flying them into targets across the country they attempted to kill as many Americans as possible while at the same time striking fear into the hearts of the citizens of our great Nation. They were successful in killing Americans that day but failed on all other accounts. Instead of terror this cowardly act inspired selfless acts of heroism and courage. It united my city and our country. It inspired a generation of young Americans to become warriors with the purpose of protecting the future freedoms of our great country.

In the aftermath of 911 many children would turn into young adults absent of a parent murdered that day. Parents of children lost would grow old with hearts broken but find a way to continue. Siblings would long for days past with a lost brother or sister. Friends would carry on with their lives keeping the memory of those lost alive. Our nations warriors would mobilize and engage our Nation’s enemies to protect our future freedoms and ensure this would never happen again. 

Like many of you I lost many friends on 9/11/2001. I decided early on that the best way to honor their memory would be to live my life to the fullest. In doing so I would not take my life for granted. Always remembering how fragile and precious it is. To appreciate every moment I have with family and friends. This is why fitness and health are so important to me. It allows me to experience things that challenge my will and make me feel alive. It’s also why I feel it is so important to help others who have a similar philosophy. I feel that at Monkey Bar Gym we are accomplishing this. Fitness is a gateway to not only a healthier but a more enjoyable life. Never take for granted what you have and work to create a better tomorrow through your actions today!

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